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Thursday, 12 May 1994
Page: 720

Senator LOOSLEY (10.15 a.m.) —I wish to move an amendment to the proposition as outlined by Senator Kernot. It is contained in the words `Omit paragraph 4', relating to the further extension of the committee. I move:

  Omit paragraph (4).

Senator Alston —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I wonder whether Senator Loosley might have the grace to explain to the Senate why he did not put his amendment in writing, as required by the standing orders, and why he did not circulate it, as is the usual convention of this chamber. Presumably, once again it is because he did not wish to give any sucker an even break, but it might be useful if he would explain formally.

Senator Faulkner —Mr President, on the point of order: that is, as usual, a most miserable contribution from Senator Alston. This particular matter has been discussed by Senator Alston with officers of the Senate. The amendment is being typed up and is being circulated to senators in the chamber. What stage that process is up to I do not know, but Senator Alston's miserable point of order just does not hold water. Before he flies off the handle and makes an outrageous accusation against a senator in this chamber, Senator Alston should get his facts right. It is not a point of order and he knows it.

Senator Alston —Mr President, on the point of order: it was indicated to me yesterday that Senator Loosley intended to move an amendment. I was not aware of the nature and extent of that amendment.

Senator Faulkner —He can do what he likes. It is nothing to do with you.

Senator Alston —Just a minute. Senator Faulkner has just indicated to the chamber that the reason for standing order 90(2) not being complied with was that the amendment is currently being typed, thereby implying that there has not been time because this has only just been thought of and committed to writing. The standing order requires that an amendment be in writing and signed by the proposer, and the amendments are normally circulated before they are spoken to. I am simply indicating that it has been at least 12 to 18 hours since I was told that Senator Loosley intended to move an amendment.

Senator Faulkner —Bad luck.

Senator Alston —That is another proposition. Bad luck is one thing, but Senator Faulkner's explanation was that—

Senator Faulkner —It has been done properly, and you know it.

Senator Alston —It has not been done properly, and I would like that to be formally acknowledged. There has been a clear breach of the standing orders and I would like an explanation for that breach.

Senator Faulkner —You are not getting one.

Senator Alston —All right. That is a different matter, rather than arguing that there is not any.

Senator Harradine —Mr President, on the point of order: I have not detected a breach of standing orders because I assume that Senator Loosley is going to pass up a copy of his amendment, duly signed. I would be concerned if it were thought that that standing order required every senator, in a debate on a particular matter, to ensure that the amendment was circulated to all of the Senate prior to that senator speaking to it. On this particular matter, I now hear what is a simple amendment to delete clause 4.

The PRESIDENT —That is right. The practice is that simple amendments, where they are easily understood, are not necessarily put in writing.

Senator LOOSLEY —I wish to speak to the amendment and, for the benefit of Senator Alston, I will read it very carefully. The words are, `Omit paragraph 4'. It is precisely the same amendment I foreshadowed at the committee meeting yesterday before I was twice denied the call by the same Senator Alston and before my endeavour to put a point of view different from Senator Alston's was met by an eruption of childish abuse from the chair. When I twice asked him in the chair whether I had the opportunity to put a point of view, whether I had the call without being abused, his response was, I believe, `I am under no obligation to answer that question.' One could ask: what sort of standing orders operate when Senator Alston chairs a committee of this Senate?

Senator Carr —Rafferty's rules.

Senator LOOSLEY —Senator Carr is absolutely right. I do not have great difficulty with the body of the proposition that Senator Kernot has moved. It does not seem to me to be an unreasonable proposal, although I note that the opposition proposes to take control of the privileges committee under its revamped committee system; and there is a certain danger in that. I said to Senator Kernot yesterday across the table that the government was prepared to agree to the body of the proposition but not to any extension. I said that clearly at the time.

  I am now simply formalising the proposition I put to the committee yesterday. There is no agreement to extending this body for a third or fourth time, a body which should have reported, according to the original proposition, by 28 February. We have seen the time for reporting extended and extended. Assurances given by the chair, Senator Alston, that this was the final extension have been broken. Undertakings on this committee are routinely dishonoured.

  We have not yet arrived at the benchmark of committee misconduct—the loans committee. We have not yet met in airports or wrestled over telephones and so on; but we are not far short of it in the manner in which this committee has operated. As Senator Carr has said, it operates simply on the strength of numbers—a majority against a minority. There is no legitimate reason for a further extension of this committee's time. It is only a political exercise. It has been a political exercise since its inception.

  I thought the committee was a national disgrace, a national embarrassment—but I was wrong; and I concede that. It was only when I saw the committee's deliberations on television in Rabaul in PNG that I realised that it had become an international disgrace. It was a simple matter for television in South-East Asia and the Pacific to pick up this nonsense and transmit it as something that reflected the conduct of the Australian Senate.

Senator Kernot —Because Conrad Black has media influence in South-East Asia.

Senator LOOSLEY —Conrad Black will have sold his shareholding in Fairfax before the committee finally reports, the way the committee is running. Michael Lee will be Prime Minister before we see this committee come to an end. The constant extensions are an absolute nonsense. What has been achieved to date? The committee has achieved absolutely nothing—zero, nil, nought. A `Z and two noughts' is this committee—a zoo. That is the kind of behaviour we see continually from the majority.

  In terms of the judgments made in the committee, Mr President, do not take my word for it, or that of Senator Carr or Senator Murphy. Look at the editorials in the Age or in the Australian. Take Kerry O'Brien's column in Time or Gerard Henderson's column in the Sydney Morning Herald. Take the remarks made on Meet the Press—a national embarrassment, a national disgrace.

Senator Faulkner —Take your own column.

Senator LOOSLEY —That was not the most helpful interjection that Senator Faulkner has ever made! Take the judgments that are made routinely in the mass media. It is a national embarrassment. And what about the cost? When I checked with the secretary, Mr Gilbert, yesterday about the projected cost to the end of the current period, he told me that we are talking in terms of $150,000 of taxpayers' money which has just been wasted and paid out for naught. There is no result, there is no achievement, there is no accomplishment; there is not even a sense of purpose.

  Senator Kernot interjecting

Senator LOOSLEY —Senator Kernot was heard in silence. She might afford me the same courtesy. She is always talking about courtesy, but she never acts on the basis of what she says. Not once on this committee has she stood up for free speech or freedom of the press—not once. In the circumstances of this committee, we ought not be talking about a skeleton remaining; we ought to be talking about a corpse in the breeze. The committee ought to be brought to an end as quickly as possible.

  In terms of the cost, it has been a waste. There has been nothing achieved by the committee that was not already established on the public record. It is no longer even a forum; it is no longer even possible for a person to put an alternative point of view and argue a case in the committee without a torrent of childish vitriol from the chair. He erupts when an alternative view is put. Then he waltzes into the chamber and asks under what standing order should I have circulated a four-word amendment—for goodness sake. It is pathetic.

  The circumstances of this committee are that it is in the finals for the worst committee ever created by the Australian Senate. It is definitely the worst job of chairing I have ever seen in my life. It is part of an opposition culture. There is an utterly warped determination on the part of the coalition to endeavour to do damage to the Prime Minister (Mr Keating).

  Senator Harradine interjecting

Senator LOOSLEY —Senator Harradine can tell me afterwards. It is personalised, poisonous and it is continually jaundiced.

  Senator Faulkner interjecting

Senator LOOSLEY —I can assure Senator Faulkner that he has been treated much more kindly over the years. Nothing will come of this extension. There will be more waste, more indulgence, more grandstanding. That is all we have seen. It is a platform for grandstanding on the part of the coalition and others in particular. There will be more foolishness and more majority votes. There has been no attempt ever to arrive at a consensus on how matters ought to be approached.

  What should have happened with this committee was to decouple the notion of the foreign investment guidelines of the Foreign Investment Review Board and its work from all the political nonsense that was attached to it relating to alleged conversations between different people in the Labor government and media proprietors. If that had happened, something could have been achieved. Yesterday was really the final opportunity to decouple things—to focus on foreign investment guidelines and the operation of the Foreign Investment Review Board and put the nonsense to one side.

  I will end on the simple point that Australians are entitled to much better from this Senate than we have been seeing on the print media committee. It is entitled to much better behaviour from this Senate. The way that we are going, we will probably end up with three reports—and people will make their judgments. But, to date, the judgment on the print media committee in the Australian media—in the fourth estate; open and free expression—varies between the view that it has been a national embarrassment and the view that it has been a national disgrace. All we will see as a result of this proposition will be a further extension and more disgrace at greater cost to the Australian taxpayer. That is something this chamber ought to vote down.